This year marks the 50th anniversary of wave of legislation in the United States to protect and maintain our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes. Included in this legislation These are the Coastal Zone Management Act, the National Marine Reserves Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Clean Water Act.

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These iconic policies protect not only the environment, but also our health. For example, they act directly to reduce the amount of pollutants entering our waterways and indirectly to preserve the critical habitats and species we need for ourselves.

This decade is also notable for being the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Developmenta UN initiative that supports science and collective action to revitalize the oceans.

It is believed that the Decade of the Ocean “once in a lifetime” an opportunity to enhance research and innovation, and to raise the political priority of efforts to improve the management of the global oceans. “for the good of mankind”.

For such a vision to be realized, science and policy must clearly articulate the link to human health and well-being.

National and international attention to the oceans recognizes that they represent largest component Earth systems to stabilize the climate and sustain life on our planet. This surge in ocean protection efforts is also a recognition that the planet’s marine environment has been severely degraded due to issues such as overfishing as well as pollution.

The degradation of our oceans has a variety of consequences, including the emergence of infectious diseases, negative impacts on agriculture and housing, reduced opportunities for new medicines and industrial substances, reduced recreational and cultural practices, increasingly unsafe coastlines, and increasing risks for boaters and fishermen. and sustainable fisheries.

reef in Palau
Reef in Palau. Humans are highly dependent on the cleanliness and safety of our oceans. Credit: Katherine Pirkle and David Delaney

For those who live on islands, and especially for those of us who live in one of the world’s most remote archipelagos, the critical importance of a healthy ocean to our well-being is clear. Nearly every aspect of our life in Hawaii depends on the waters around us.

In fact, in the creation story of Kumulipo, Hawaii, the coral polyp appears as the first creature. The story unfolds to explain the relationship between the oceans, marine life, Ainu and humans. Today, the oceans continue to play an important role in many cultural practices and ceremonies.

Our marine environment supports healthy behaviour, nutrition and well-being. Studies show that people who live near coastal areas and visit blue spaces report higher physical activity levels and better mental as well as general health.

globally, 3.3 billion people rely on fish and other seafood as one of the main sources of protein in their diet. Many products from the ocean are raised in essential nutrients including zinc, iron, selenium, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids.

Nearly every aspect of our life in Hawaii depends on the waters around us.

Surprisingly, however, most healthcare professionals, from doctors and nurses to mental health professionals and public health workers, rarely link what’s happening in the ocean to human health.

Even well-known hazards to human health from the marine environment, such as shellfish poisoning, ciguatera poisoning, jellyfish stingas well as exposure to methylmercuryare considered technical topics and are poorly understood by most health professionals.

One of the fundamental concepts in the field of public health is the socioecological model. This model is often depicted as an onion with a person at the center and layers of influence including family, community, national and international politics surrounding the person. Thus, human health is a reflection of these many interrelated factors. For example, national and international policies that allow for overfishing can reduce local fisheries, which in turn jeopardizes the food security and nutrition of families who depend on income and food from fisheries.

The same model can be applied to the study of the oceans and human health. We can make an effort to represent the diversity of factors and complex ways in which the oceans affect human well-being.

Sunset Waikiki
More than 3 billion people depend on the oceans for their livelihood. However, human-induced global warming is only growing as a threat. Credit: Katherine Pirkle and David Delaney

In doing so, we can propose activities, programs and strategies to encourage a more positive relationship with the ocean that promotes both our own health and the health of our environment. These efforts are critical and timely at this moment of national and international priority for ocean science and conservation.

To better understand the complex links between the oceans and human well-being, the Office of Public Health Research at the University of Hawaii at Manoa launched an initiative last fall. To go beyond simply listing what is happening to our oceans, we are committed to researching and publishing research on the many benefits people and communities receive from interacting with the ocean.

During the summer, our team hosts numerous system mapping workshops with a wide variety of community members throughout the state. A systems map is a visual depiction of how a system, in this case the oceans and people, work together. Our goal:

  1. understand the relationship between oceans and people;
  2. involve the community in our work;
  3. identify impact points through which we can bring about collective change; as well as
  4. develop new partnerships.

We believe that listening to the opinion of the community is an integral part of this process. For many of us, the connection between the ocean and our well-being is very close, and these personal views are vital to understanding the relationship between the ocean and health.

If you hear from us, we hope you’ll be as excited to contribute to this important work as we are! In the meantime, we hope that everyone will find a moment to enjoy and malam our ocean.

Editor’s note: This Community Voices is co-authored by Sara Maaria Saastamoinen, who is pursuing a Ph.D. at UH’s Department of Political Science, Manoa focused on alternative futures and indigenous politics; and Alena K. Chalabi, who received her BA from George Washington University in International Relations with a concentration in Conflict Resolution.

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